Human papillomavirus HPV is a virus that can cause genital warts, anal cancer, and cervical cancer. It is a virus that is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that girls and boys aged 11-12 years old be vaccinated against HPV. Boys can be vaccinated using the vaccine that protects against four strains of HPV called Gardasil. Girls can be vaccinated with either Gardasil, or a different vaccine that protects against two HPV strains called Cervarix. This article focuses on Gardasil.
Gardasil is the first vaccine designed to prevent both genital warts caused by HPV and cervical cancer. The vaccine is a product of genetic engineering and is considered safe. Gardasil does not contain HPV. Rather, it uses a harmless viral protein to stimulate the immune system and create resistance against the virus. It is, therefore, not possible to become infected with HPV from the vaccine.
Gardasil is recommended for girls and boys as a 3-dose series between 11-12 years old. For the vaccine to be most effective, children should be vaccinated before their first sexual contact. The vaccine may be given starting at nine years old.
Girls and women aged 13-26 years who did not receive the HPV vaccine when they were younger should still receive the vaccine series.
Boys and men aged 13-21 years who did not receive the HPV vaccine when they were younger should still receive the vaccine series. Men aged 22-26 years may also be vaccinated. Men in this age group should be vaccinated if they have sex with other men, have HIV infection, or have a weak immune system.
What Else Should I Know About Gardasil?
Gardasil is not a treatment, but a prevention measure. The vaccine will not help those who already have HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. However, most people do not contract all four at the same time, so the immunization would still be recommended as a preventive measure against the HPV types that a woman or man does not have.
Also, Gardasil does not prevent infection with the other HPV types that are not contained in the vaccine. Therefore, the vaccine does not replace the need for routine Pap smears to screen for cervical dysplasia (a precancerous condition) and cancer in women. Women and girls severely allergic to yeast should not be immunized with Gardasil. Also, the product is not recommended for pregnant women.
More on HPV
The HPV lives on the skin or mucous membranes of infected people. There are often no symptoms of HPV and many cases go away on their own. Although the body’s immune system is often effective in getting rid of many types of HPV, other types of HPV can cause genital warts and, more seriously, cervical cancer. Fortunately, the vast majority of HPV infections do not lead to cervical cancer.
The transmission rate of HPV is high because most people who are infected do not know that they have HPV and, therefore, do not take necessary precautions. Even more importantly, HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact and not via blood or bodily fluids, like most other STDs. Anyone who has ever been sexually active has the risk of getting and passing on HPV. Because there are no symptoms, a person can have HPV for years and not know they are transmitting it. Condoms are not entirely effective in preventing HPV infection because areas that are not covered may be infected. However, using latex condoms has been associated with a lower rate of HPV infection in women.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 08/2011 -
- Update Date: 02/29/2012 -